Sometimes, one of my sons will tell me he’s not good at something, like understanding algebra or catching pop flies. “You may not be ‘good’ yet, but you’re working at it,” is my response. “You’re trying hard and that’s what counts.”
Both of my kids, like so many of us, struggle with worries over how they are seen by others and whether they’re good at something. They shy away from trying certain activities out of fear that they will make a mistake and be seen as a failure.
As a parent, I want to help them fail. That is, I want them to have the courage and enthusiasm to try new things and not get stuck on how well they do. By focusing on effort and change rather than results, I’m trying to help my kids develop a growth mindset.
This concept was coined by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, who writes about the difference between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets in her book Mindset:The New Psychology of Success https://amzn.to/2xmvFT9. Dweck says that someone with a “fixed mindset” considers intelligence and creativity to be static traits, which that person needs to demonstrate repeatedly by showing their successes and avoiding failure. In contrast, someone with a “growth mindset” looks for new challenges and opportunities, viewing failure as a path toward learning.
When my kids take part in sports, music, or even homework, I try to focus on pride in their efforts. I tell them that I love watching them have fun on a team or in a band as opposed to offering praise for being a strong baseball player or a talented guitarist. If they get a high test score, I try to praise all they learned or how diligently they studied as opposed to the test result. I encourage them to feel proud of the work they put in and to remember how good it feels to try hard and break new ground, whether you succeed at something or not.
In this article about instilling a growth mindset at home, you’ll find more suggestions on specific language to use and other ways to help kids develop a growth mindset:
Most important of all, I try to be a positive role model for my kids by sharing my own attempts to develop a growth mindset. I’ll even go out of my way to point out mistakes I’ve made as I’ve tried to learn something new. One of the things I do quite often is discuss the mistakes that I make as a parent. When I lose my temper or don’t parent in a way that makes me or my kids comfortable, I often ask them to help me brainstorm about how I could do better next time. My hope is that my sons will come to share my belief that learning new things is a risk well worth taking at any age or stage of life!